The story didn’t make the major headlines of the day, but it caught my eye. U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder announced that in the interest of preserving civil liberties, federal law enforcement officials would no longer be allowed to seize property without evidence that a crime has been committed. He restored justice by repealing the long standing Ricco Act, an act replicated by local law enforcement agencies across the country. (Click here) Initially, the act was created to take down mob bosses and to use as a deterrent in the drug war.
Unfortunately, the law was written so broadly that not only was the alleged criminal affected but his family and innocent people with whom he or she might have been doing legitimate business were affected, too. Under the Ricco Act, a suspect forfeited any asset presumed to be a part of a crime. The consequence was that families of the person targeted, including the children, could be left homeless and without access to bank accounts or cars. While this law was under enforcement, agencies confiscated large amounts of assets which the departments were allowed to keep, turning their officers into bounty hunters. (Blog 9/6/13)
The sheriff’s department in my county brought forward its own “little” Ricco law while I was in public office. I opposed the ordinance vigorously. The potential for abuse was too great and was also a violation of civil liberties because a suspect was not someone who has been found guilty of a crime. He or she was merely under investigation. If the suspect was never charged, the burden of reclaiming confiscated assets was arduous because those assets were frozen and money for an attorney to reclaim them had to be found elsewhere.
Sadly, no one heard my argument. The police lobby was strong and the vote went down 4 to 1 in favor of the ordinance. That legislation passed in the mid 1980s. Today, nearly 25 years later, justice has been served. The U.S. Attorney General has ended the practice of confiscating assets of suspects and collaterally punishing friends and family. Holder’s decision is the correct one. I’m sorry it took 25 years to right a wrong.